September 2016

d-lab at Wirksworth Festival

Thirteen Square Print Version 3Thirteen Square Print Version 3 b

The Derby Meridian

In 1675 Charles II appointed the English astronomer John Flamsteed (1646 – 1719) the ‘King’s Astronomical Observator’, and in June of that year the Royal Observatory at Greenwich was founded. And with the founding of the observatory came the fixing of the prime meridian at Greenwich (give or take one or two disputes from other contenders for ground zero). The prime meridian, an essentially arbitrary measurement, is a line of longitude of 0° and in combination with its antimeridian (180° in a 360° system) it forms a great circle that divides the sphere of the Earth into two halves or hemispheres.

Before Flamsteed was appointed the ‘King’s Astronomical Observator’ he lived in Derby. He made his astronomical observations from the back garden of his house at 29 Queen Street, in the centre of Derby (which still stands although much altered), using a meridian line of 0° at a latitude of 52°58’.

In Mapping the Heavens: Flamsteed’s influence from Newton to Neptune, Jonathan Powers describes how Flamsteed’s attempts to fix the meridian in Derby. The rejection spurned him on to send an anonymous paper to the Royal Society in which he argued for the siting of his meridian line.

I hope you will not account me culpable for having adapted the calculations to the meridian of a place no more famous than Derby. You have the occasion before; to which I may add, that, though London be the seat of the wits, yet the country is the seminary, that the meridian passing over Derby is nearer the middle of England that that of London, and that its Latitude bisects it nearer than any yet stated. So that this town, which is seated in Umbilico quasi Regni, must needs be the most convenient place that can be elected whereon to fix our calculations. [Powers, 2014]

Greenwich became the location of the prime meridian and the centre of the world, instead of Derby, which shifted in time if not in space, from being the centre or ‘Navel of the Kingdom’, to being 5 minutes and 54.6 seconds behind.


Thirteen is a work that plays with being there and not being there. Time is its material and it is about being slightly out of whack. Its title is taken from the opening line of Orwell’s 1984, ‘It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.’ Like the thirteen o’clock alluded to by Orwell the work hints at the incongruous, suggesting a certain uncertainty about how we think things are supposed to work. Like clocks, time and space.

A simple digital animation plays on a square broadcast monitor that sits squarely on top of a metal framed plinth. The time is told against a simple circular shape. The look is deliberately clockish, but instead of numbers the time is written out in full.

The animation plays on a loop and begins silently at 12noon. The time is told until 12 Noon & Five Minutes & Fifty five Seconds. At this point the 10 bells of Derby Cathedral sound and the peel rings out 12 times marking midday.

The clock resets to 12noon, the bells next sound at 12 Noon and Five Minutes and Fifteen Seconds, becaues the six minute interval has been adjusted by 40 seconds – the time the bells take to ring. In each iteration the interval is adjusted by a further 40 seconds and thus DMT slowly moves to align itself with GMT. But only once. Because the iteration continues, the sound of the Cathedral bells striking noon and the face of the clock telling 12noon slowly drift in and out of alignment endlessley.